“Premier, I am not an elected official”

A reporter’s riposte to a politician’s challenge to come up with better public policy.

Defending Manitoba’s dismal COVID-19 response during a devasting second wave in November 2020 was a tall order. Who was better for the job than Premier Brian Pallister, measuring in at 6 foot 8 inches?

CBC’s Rosie Barton, herself hailing from friendly Manitoba, wasn’t pulling punches in suggesting that Pallister’s government could have responded differently in the summer to prepare for a predictable fall surge, as the following exchange highlights:

“Well, that’s great, except that Rosemary, to be fair, you haven’t come up with a single idea in this interview that would have made this plan work better.”

“Premier, I am not an elected official. I am asking you why you didn’t move faster to protect the people of your province, Sir.”

As Pallister’s hasty punt shows, the opposite side of the microphone can be more comfy compared to the politician squirming in the hot seat. Not surprisingly, most journalists stay on their side of the mic. But others leap from the Fourth Estate into the political arena where they have to answer, and not ask, pesky questions.

Before being dissolved for an election in the late summer of 2021, there were three former CTV broadcasters in Parliament – Seamus O’Regan (Liberal), Kevin Waugh (Conservative) and Marci Ien (Liberal). Most notably, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Everything, Chrystia Freeland was a journalist at The Financial Times for many years. And many Governors General plied their trade in media before moving into Rideau Hall.

Perhaps most famous – actually, infamous – among the journalists-turned-politicians is former Senator (and long-time journalistic gadfly) Mike Duffy. Unfortunately for Duffy – and the taxpayers – he is well-known in his post-media career for all the wrong reasons. And during their time in the Senate, Duffy and fellow Senator Pamela Wallin – a career journalist before she landed a few choice political appointments – both learned that the other side of the mic is not so easy.

So, why didn’t all these journos stay where they could continue dish it out but wouldn’t have to take it? A yearning to serve the public? An interest in policy? A desire to be on the side of the mic where decisions get made? All with the certainty that no journalist would be able to get the better for them.

Didn’t turn out that way.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons, Andrew Scheer

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